Aside from the question of being a makeup artist assistant, the other question I am most frequently asked is about rate negotiation and knowing what to charge. Being a professional (at anything) means being PAID for the work that you do. Not liking something, not being good at something, etc. People actually PAY you and your work is your livelihood. Therefore in order to be a successful working artist, knowing how to set your rates is paramount to your business.

In a makeup group I belong to on Facebook the question came up of whether or not to post ones rates on your professional website. Artists who do so are – generally speaking – those for whom wedding/private client comprises a goodly part if not all of their business. They feel that posting their rates helps them to separate the wheat from the chaff, and cuts down on the number of inquiries from people who are merely rate shopping. In that world, it may make sense to have a standardized rate schedule. In fact my respected makeup homegirl Yisell Santos has a recent blog post about dealing with just such inquiries (click to read).

I am a media makeup artist and I write from the perspective of media makeup. In the media makeup world it is different. Here is an article I read recently that perfectly illustrates why I am on #TeamNO when it comes to the question of posting rates…

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Pricing & Negotiating: Book Cover For Politician’s Memoir

What you are looking at is an actual bid prepared by a photo shoot producer on behalf of a photographer bidding on a job. You will note the hair/makeup rate submitted on the bid is $250 for a half day. Sounds low doesn’t it? Well IT IS. And before you start saying “Well, maybe that’s the rate in this artists’ market…”, here is what the shoot producer himself had to say about it;

    Hair/Makeup Stylist: This is typically much lower than the rate I’d include for a hair/makeup stylist, but they were local to the remote location and offered to work a half day at this rate. We originally anticipated that the stylist would travel in with the assistants, and I’d typically anticipated a day-rate of up to $1,200 if that was the case. However, I wasn’t going to argue with the local stylist’s rate, especially since we knew the travel expenses would likely put us over the client’s suggested budget of $15,000″

(note – italicization & underline added by me for emphasis)

$250 for makeup/hair although they were prepared to pay more.

That artist limited themselves out of possibly as much as $300 more for a half-day rate. And I do not mind saying that it makes me feel some kind of way that the artist – a Key/Principal on the shoot – was paid less than the photographers assistants. Nah, son. Maybe that is the going rate for local jobs in this artist’s area, but this was not a local job. This was a goodly sized production coming in from out of town. The production would still have saved some money by hiring a local artist and not having to pay travel and accommodations, apparently it was a direct booking so there were no agency fees, etc. etc. You as the artist do not have to give the farm away for free.

So how do you avoid this happening to you? Here’s what’s helped me over the years…


Being prepared for your negotiations requires some advanced leg-work. Find out the rate range for given types of work both in your immediate area and for the industry at large. Rates for things such as weddings will vary depending on your market, but commercial rates – particularly when you’re talking national clients who may shoot anywhere in the country – are pretty standard. Obviously a more Senior artist might demand a bit more than a more beginning artist, but the rates are not helter-skelter all over the place. Also this is where developing a “family” of makeup artists comes in handy. Being able to ask fellow artists what’s what in the marketplace is invaluable.

This is a tough one. When a potential client asks you your rate, the knee-jerk reaction is to just throw out a number and most of us try to throw out a number that we think the client is going to want to hear. Experts from Crystal A. Wright (motivational speaker/educator and former agent/owner of The Crystal Agency) to Eve Pearl (founder of Eve Pearl cosmetics) all say the same thing: Don’t Do It! Eve Pearl brought this point home in her lecture at IMATS Los Angeles this past January. She had an audience member participate in a mock negotiation and the participant made the typical rookie mistake of just throwing out a number without asking any questions for further information or keeping the door open for further negotiation. How can you know what number to quote to your potential client if you do not know the parameters of the job?! Ask the right questions and then…

When we get that initial inquiry it is just human nature to become excited and to want to do whatever it takes to get the job. As we grow in our career we become more selective, but it takes some time to learn how to quell that “Pick me! Pick me!” voice all us freelancers have in our heads. Do not start out your negotiations by talking, start out by listening.

Once you are ready to offer a number it is important to leave the door open for further negotiations. This is particularly true nowadays as much of the time negotiations happen via email. I always try to get the client to tell me what their makeup/hair budget is FIRST, before I respond with my rates. If/When I cannot get them to answer, I will generally say something to the effect of; “My normal rate for this type of job is $XXXX, however please let me know your budget as I am always happy to work within a clients’ budget”. This is an open-ended answer that invites further dialogue. When you get to the point in your career where people are hiring YOU instead of just “a makeup artist” you will have more room to be more rigid in your rates. Also, things can change when you’re talking about a repeat/regular client. In most instances, however, you will need to let clients know that you are open to working with them. HOWEVER…

Thanks to Mary Erickson for that term because it says it perfectly. Being open does not mean being desperate. Some jobs *are* just bad and some clients are just looking for ways to not pay an artist. Also once you get a reputation for being “The Discount Artist” it is difficult to break out of that caste. Master film makeup artist Marietta Carter-Narcisse taught me a long time ago that you have to be willing to lose the job in order to get the job. If the going rate for a given job is say – $850/day – but the client comes back to me that they have a budget of $300 for the day, that is a red flag and I’m asking questions. I have had two outcomes happen to me fairly consistently in instances such as these; A ) I had to let the job go, or very commonly B ) When I said I could not work at that rate all of a sudden someone found some more money. Yep. Do not be fooled. Shoots have budgets. As illustrated in the photo-shoot estimate above, it is more a matter of how the money is to be allocated. It is up to you to make sure you get your fair share. In fact…

As in the case of the photo estimate I quoted above, artists unwittingly undervalue themselves by assuming the cheapest rate will always get the worm. That is not necessarily the case. I have had several jobs over the years where the client’s budget for makeup/hair was MORE than what I would have quoted. Hence I, again, like to find out what the budget is for makeup/hair FIRST before I go into what my rate is. I had a job recently where based on the job description I would likely have said my rate was $1000/day but it turned out their budget was $1500/day. Um hello, $500 more per day! Why yes, I’ll take that thank you very much! Admittedly, that much of a difference does not happen frequently, but even a difference of $50 or $100 more per day makes a difference, no?

There are a number of great resources out there – from blog posts to books, etc. – that can help you improve your negotiation skills. Again, this is the Internet Age so there is no excuse for being caught out there. (NOTE: I would caution against taking the advice of other artists who do not know either. LOL! That is the downside of some messageboards/Facebook groups, etc. You definitely want to get your information from a reliable source.) It definitely took some practice for me to feel comfortable with setting my rates and engaging in negotiations. The only way to get good at it is to do it so don’t be scurred. If you are prepared you do not have to be scared. 😉


Negotiations 101 by KJ Bennett (click for PDF file)

7 Questions for Determining Your Hourly Freelance Rate (slightly different as it is not specific to makeup or creatives HOWEVER this article gives insight into things you should think about as you move into freelancing for a living…)

Many thanks to Rob Haggart / A Photo Editor Blog for allowing me to snip from their blog post for this article. 🙂

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